Saturday, July 31, 2010

Update on the Mississippi Basin Model in Jackson, Mississippi

July 31, 2010 update: A coworker sent me a scan of this wonderful postcard from, I am guessing, the early 1960s, showing tourists or engineers examining the Mississippi Basin Model. They are standing at the Vicksburg harbor project. Close to the camera, you can see the old Hwy US 80 bridge where it crosses the river from Vicksburg to Delta, Louisiana. The Interstate 20 bridge has not yet been built.

How times have changed: the gent is wearing a necktie and the ladies are elegantly dressed. In 50 years, we have become a nation of swine.

Sections of the model might be recovered and moved to Vicksburg to become a part of the new transportation museum. The museum will be on Washington Street near the old Levee Street Depot. I do not know if water will be run through the model; that would be a fantastic way to demonstrate the technology of a physical model.

July 2015 update: None of this old model was reused. It continues to languish and decay. Much of the remaining machinery has been looted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yazoo City, Gateway to the Mississippi Delta, and Satartia, Mississippi


Yazoo City, the Gateway to the Delta, is situated at the transition of the two main landforms that make up Mississippi's geomorphology, the loess bluffs in the east and the flat alluvial Delta to the west. It is still the county seat of Yazoo County and is located on the banks of the Yazoo River about 40 miles northwest of Jackson. It is only about a hour's drive from Vicksburg along Highway 3, which follows the edge of the loess hills.

Yazoo City must have once been prosperous because the central business core has blocks of early 20th century commercial buildings. But it is quiet now; History Channel could have filmed an episode of Life After People here. Looking down Main Street, I can almost imagine it crowded with merchants and shoppers in a previous era. The limestone-clad Bank of Yazoo City (1876-1904) has the solid and reassuring facade that was supposed to make patrons trust the institution's solidity. Clearly it was built in an era of optimism and wealth.Why has the optimism disappeared from thousands of small American towns like this? How have we destroyed our society?

There are still a few going concerns on Main Street, but not many. Oddly, the city set up loudspeakers on the light poles which play jazz to the lonely sidewalks.
Update August 20, 2014: This is an undated post card of Main Street, from the Tichnor Collection at the Boston Public Library.

The elegant wood mansions on Jefferson Street resemble similar examples throughout the mid-west. I recall Indianapolis having hundreds of magnificent houses like this.

The house in the photograph above is the Oakes African American Cultural Center at 312 West Monroe Street. It is on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 2009 list of most endangered historic places.

The owners may have done some work recently to preserve the structure, but in 2009, the Heritage Trust was concerned about it's survival:

"In 1884, their son, A.J., founded Oakes Academy, a private school for blacks, and served as principal for the next 16 years. He resigned in 1900 to work full-time for the Oakes Lumber Company and his construction company, which helped rebuild Yazoo City after a 1904 fire destroyed much of the town. The fire did not reach his company, nor did it climb the hill to the Oakes House, thus allowing it to remain in its original state. By 1930, the one-room structure had grown to a two-story home with Colonial Revival detailing, including a wrap-around two-story gallery supported by Tuscan columns.

Currently the Oakes House is being used as a museum that not only tells the history of the Oakes family, but it also tells of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in Yazoo County and the State of Mississippi. In the 1990's, an intense project helped restore the leaded-glass entrance doors, original mantels, chimneys, walls, and stairs."

The Bethel AME church, also on South Monroe, is a fine example of church architecture.



Entering town from the west, you drive up West Broadway, which is Hwy. 149. The scene is pretty grim. The commercial block is deserted except for package and cig. stores, which on Saturday do a booming business. Beer & Butts.....
The Amtrak train from Chicago comes through Yazoo City and stops here. I took the sleeper from Chicago in June of 2006 and was a bit surprised how many people disembarked here and in Greenwood. There once must have been a depot but am not sure of its fate or whereabouts.

The photograph above, taken through the train window, shows the station in Greenwood, but the scene in Yazoo City is similar.

Some trivia: The actress, Stella Stevens (née Estelle Eggleston) was born in Yazoo City on October 1, 1936. She moved away at age 4.

Please click the link to see my article on the historic Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, also in Yazoo City and now deserted and collapsing.

Heading south on Hwy 3, the town of Satartia is also pretty quiet, and the convenience store is closed.


Of interest to archaeologists are the Indian burial mounds off Satartia Road between Satartia and Holly Bluff. One is tree-covered, and on the rainy day when a group and I visited the site, the rain had washed out numerous pottery shards. Another mound has a modern home on it. There is a lot to see in the Delta, and I need to do more exploring.

Photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera or a compact Fuji F31fd.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More shotgun shacks, Marys Alley, Vicksburg, Mississippi


Marys Alley is north of the Ford Subdivision and west of the railroad tracks that run approximately parallel to North Washington Street. As you can see in photographs 1 and 2 (taken on 6 April, 2008), this area has a problem: when the Mississippi river rises to slightly above flood stage, about 49 of 50 feet on the Vicksburg gauge, the terrain floods. Houses east of the railroad tracks are protected by the rail embankment, but the land drops off to the west, and there are no levees between this small residential area and the Yazoo River. At about the same time, the city has to close Chickasaw and Long Lake Roads and the Kings Point Ferry becomes inaccessible.

The houses here are decades old, possibly from the 1930s or 1940s. Who knows why this area was developed then; I assume the land was cheap and an occasional flood was considered an accepted risk. It is also possibly that the area did not flood as often, and subsequent levee construction changed water patterns.

Marys Alley (no apostrophe in the name) resembles a classic Southern "Court." Originally, houses probably lined both sides of the Alley, but now we only have the structures on the north side. Photograph 3 above is from January 31, 2010.

All the houses have spray-painted numbers on them, which means the city inspector has condemned them. I am not sure if they were purchased on a FEMA program to tear down structures in areas that chronically flood. The east-most house is no. 63, in poor condition.

The next house is no. 20, also badly neglected. These houses were built with post-and-beam foundations, which at least elevated them about 2 or 3 feet above the ground, but why could they not have been given 4 or 5 feet, considering this was flood-prone area?

No. 24, the next in the group, was a more substantial house but was also elevated only about 2 ft off the ground. At least they were not built on slabs, like many of the ghastly ranch-style houses of the 1960s and 1970s.

No. 30 was closer to the shape of a traditional shotgun shack, and was once a cheerful blue.

Finally, the last house still standing (as of January 2010) was no. 38. These houses were listed in the Vicksburg Post on the demolition list, so they will probably be crushed soon.

All images are from a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera (a superb APS-format unit), tripod-mounted.

For some black and white film pictures, please click here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deconstruction, Hannah Avenue, Vicksburg


Hannah Avenue is another one of Vicksburg's out-of-the-way streets that few people visit except for local residents. It runs perpendicular to Military Avenue, about one half mile east of Marcus Bottom. I was drawn there by one of the houses on the city's demolition list, number 2631.

This modest house is typical of many late-1930s or 1940s wood-frame units built as single-family dwellings. It was in bad condition with some of the roof caved-in.

Despite its present poor condition, I could tell that it had been built with good materials, and it had served its purpose for six decades. The fireplace probably had a coal stove insert originally.

Like many of these demolition homes I have photographed, this one looked like it had been evacuated in a hurry. Does the child who once owned this little teddy bear miss it? I have also seen abandoned high school yearbooks, bank statements, photographs, and other personal mementos.

Across the street was a classic narrow shotgun house. This one is occupied and has new brick foundation posts. I expect there were more shotgun houses in years past, possibly right next to the one in the photograph.

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 camera, tripod-mounted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Off the main path: Union Avenue, Vicksburg, Mississippi



Because of Vicksburg's complicated loess topography, a number of roads wind along the ridges and drop into valleys. Some are dead-end and almost unknown except to local residents. Union Avenue is one of these. This is not the Union Ave. in the Vicksburg Military Park that tourists visit but rather a residential road that runs from Sherman Avenue to the edge of the Park.

I did not know Union Ave. was here until I saw the address of a house on the city's demolition list. The house, at 205, is beyond saving.

Neat, modest homes line the road as it proceeds south along the ridge. I saw this snow-covered Chevrolet Bel Aire and asked a fellow if I could take its portrait. He asked me if I wanted to buy it (tempting...).


Union Ave drops down into a hollow and parallels the Military Park. Oddly, this is Warren County and not City of Vicksburg. I was surprised to see a cluster of houses in the hollow. I recall seeing them years ago from the Park. The house in the photograph above, no. 710, is now deserted but when I saw it before, the resident there raised pigs.

The next house, 714, is also deserted. Neither look too bad. This is definitely a quiet, out-of-the-way place to live, another one of Vicksburg's hidden valleys.

Photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

More Shotgun Shacks: Arcadia Place, Vicksburg




Arcadia Street and an extension to the south, Arcadia Place, is another one of Vicksburg's hidden streets. Other than residents, there is little reason for outsiders to drive or walk here. The view above shows 6 matching shotgun shacks on Arcadia Place in 2004 and 2014. Arcadia is west of Drummond Street along the bayou, and access is via Avenues C or D. Arcadia runs north-south parallel to Washington Street, but Washington is up on the hill and there is no access. Google Maps shows two connecting streets, but this is impossible topographically (lesson: don't believe everything shown on online maps).

The east side of Arcadia Place features a classic series of six identical shotgun houses. The photograph above shows the group looking north from no, 2909. I do not know who owns them. They have been in various stages of renovation and paint for at least a decade, but a couple of units may now be occupied. With fresh paint, they look pretty good.

This is the house closest to Avenue D, no. 2901 (above).
We follow with No. 2903. This the third in the group, 2905.

Here is 2907. Notice the center pillar is an original lathe-turned post. The one on the right is new and made from 2x4s, but in the open Vicksburg style.

And finally no. 2909. This, too, lost its original posts.

Further north, the houses consist of modest cottages of 1930s or 1940s-vintage. I noticed many have dogs behind the fences, and I assume the residents are fearful of crime.

Some houses have been deserted, like this weed-covered wreck. The red paint means it is on the city's tear-down list. Like many other parts of Vicksburg, this neighborhood was probably more densely-populated and more vibrant in the 1940s. There was probably a community grocery store nearby.

Square photographs exposed with a Rolleiflex 3.5F camera on Kodak Ektar 25 film. Ektar 25 was the finest-grain color negative film ever made and was perfect for architecture.  The 2004 black and white was Kodak Panatomic-X film in a Fuji 690II camera. Panatomic-X was a classic thin-emulsion, fine-grain film and responded well to Agfa Rodinol developer. The 2014 black and white was Kodak BWC400 film (a C-41 type of film. similar to color print film but only containing monochrome dye) in a Pentax Spotmatic camera.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Squatters in the city, Athens, Greece

Athens is the capital as well as the economic, intellectual, cultural, and industrial center of modern Greece. It is one of the world's oldest cities, with a recorded history of at least 3,400 years. Following the end of the bitter civil war in 1949 and with a degree stability ensured by United States aide (remember the Truman Doctrine?), the sleepy, semi-provincial city exploded in uncontrolled urban growth. What had been an elegant but small European city with olive groves and pine trees on the outskirts morphed into an unplanned mass of concrete filling the entire valley. The population of the urban area now exceeds 4 million. A few suburbs like Filothei and Psychiko managed to preserve trees and parks, but most others districts were totally developed.

A small ridge of limestone hills runs northeast from the center of downtown Athens. In Psychiko, the wealthy built beautiful houses with spectacular views (Photograph 1 above). This is the link to the Google Map showing this area.


View Larger Map


Amazingly, there is still some unused, semi-abandoned terrain near the most exclusive suburbs. Sometime in the past, the hills were quarried for building material. At least one of these quarries must be in limbo regarding ownership because year after year, there appears to be no official government or private presence.

But in December of 2008, I was amazed to see that a peasant lived in the quarry. He had built a collection of shacks with scrap lumber, bricks, and steel roofing. The fellow showed up in a beat-up pickup truck and opened up pens, out of which waddled geese, ducks, chickens, goats, and turkeys.

He looks pretty well-settled to me. What a spot: no traffic, quiet, and a view (no electricity or water, either).

Further northwest, Filothei's most exclusive mansions and embassies run up another hill (house lots here cost well in excess of 1 million Euros). But once you top the crest of the hill, the northwest side, facing the Galatsi District, is another broad patch of terrain in limbo status. The photograph above was taken on a cold December evening with a bit of snow in the air.

Squatters live here in little brick houses with goats and chickens. I know from personal experience that some families have lived here since the 1970s. The have beat-up trucks and keep bees. Do they pay taxes? Who runs the electricity lines? A family friend's father claims ownership. He has been in court fighting for title for four decades. Meanwhile, the peasants have some of the best views in the city.